‘What does it mean to make queer art now?’ Paul Clinton asks artists and writers Catherine Lord, Carlos Motta, Charlotte Prodger, James Richards, Prem Sahib and A.L. Steiner to respond.
Everything has changed and nothing has changed. Activists and theorists began using the term ‘queer’ in the early 1990s at a moment of political exhaustion. Representations of AIDS as a specifically gay disease made it necessary to challenge categories of sexual identity. There was also dissent from those who felt excluded from the gay rights movement on the grounds of gender presentation, race or desire. Queer was not simply an indicator of identity but a refusal of being identified, fixed and assimilated. Much art of the time also exchanged flag-waving affirmation for critique – take, for example, Glenn Ligon’s Notes on the Margin of the Black Book (1991–93), an appropriation of Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photographs of black men, annotated to isolate their troubling racial fetishism.
In 2014, politics once considered radical are now routinely taught on undergraduate arts courses, antiretroviral drugs are available to the lucky few and gay marriage is recognized in a number of countries. Yet, homophobia and transphobia persist. Though in some ways queer art might seem like something of an anachronism, recent shows and events in London – including ‘Keep Your Timber Limber’ at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, ‘Rasberry Poser’ at Chisenhale Gallery and ‘Charming for the Revolution’ at Tate Modern – as well as ‘Tom of Finland+Bob Mizer’ at LA MOCA, the number of sexually dissident artists in this year’s Whitney Biennial and a forthcoming exhibition on art after identity politics at M_KHA, Antwerp, all attest to a renewed interest in alternative sexualities and subjectivities in art. I asked a range of artists and writers to reflect on the current state of art drawn from queer culture.
Paul Clinton is editorial assistant of frieze, based in London, UK.